Australian government scraps controversial GP fee scheme

A stethoscope Image copyright PA
Image caption The original proposal had drawn strong criticism across the country.

Australia's government has scrapped plans for a widely criticised medical payment scheme.

The co-payment scheme would have required doctors to decide whether or not to charge patients an extra A$5 ($4.1, £2.6) for a visit.

Health Minister Susan Ley said on Tuesday that the idea had been dropped because of a lack of support.

Critics of the policy said it shifted the burden of financing healthcare to doctors and patients.

The proposed scheme had been heavily criticised by medical professionals.

It replaced a previous and equally unpopular plan in December to charge patients a A$7 fee to see a GP.

How does Australian Medicare work now?

  • Healthcare is provided by both private and government institutions.
  • The government funds its Medicare system via a 1.5% levy on everyone except low-income earners, with the balance being provided by the government from general revenue.
  • An additional levy of 1% is imposed on high-income earners if they do not have private health insurance.
  • As well as Medicare, the government funds a separate Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme that subsidises a range of prescription medications.

'No support'

Under the updated version of the scheme, doctors would have seen their Medicare rebates for some patients cut by A$5, with doctors given the option to pass that cost on to the patient.

The government claimed the scheme would save A$3.5bn over five years but critics said the cost to patients would rise.

Professor Heather Yeatman, president of the Public Health Association of Australia, said in December that GPs were "being forced to do the dirty work of the government".

Ms Leys said it was clear the proposal for a co-payment did "not have broad support and will not proceed".

"We recognise that we cannot introduce reforms to build a strong, sustainable Medicare without the support from the public and the parliament."

She said she would be consulting on short, medium and long-term policy options to ensure the government could continue to support high quality care and treatment.

Australian Medical Association President Dr Brian Owler welcomed the move, telling the Australian Broadcasting Corporation the policy was "never one which was going to improve general practice or make the healthcare system more sustainable".

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